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Monosodium Glutamate

Tammy Kliethermes, Dietetic Intern, Missouri Department of Health


Here's everything you wanted to know about monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG.

MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid essential for metabolism and brain function and is manufactured by the body. It is found in almost every protein food we eat. Glutamate occurs naturally in protein-containing foods such as cheese, milk, mushrooms, meat, fish, and many vegetables like tomatoes. When MSG is added to foods, it provides a similar flavoring function as the glutamate that occurs naturally in food.

MSG is used as a flavor enhancer to many foods. It is made from starch, corn sugar or molasses from sugar cane or sugar beets. A natural fermentation process, much like that used to make beer, vinegar, or yogurt, produces MSG.

The MSG added to food is handled in the body the same way as natural glutamate found in foods. But, isn't it high in sodium? MSG contains only one-third of the sodium as table salt, and is used in much smaller amounts. When MSG is used with table salt, it can actually help reduce the total amount of sodium by 20 to 40 percent. In addition, MSG may be helpful to the elderly who may experience a decline in smell and taste. Adding MSG to soups and stews may make eating for older adults more enjoyable.

Some people feel they are sensitive to MSG, developing headaches and other symptoms. However, current research has not found a link between MSG and these reactions. MSG is safe for consumption as stated by the US Food and Drug Administration. It is even safe for infants as human breast milk contains glutamate.

When purchasing foods, check the nutrition label ingredient list for MSG. Also, flavoring your household foods with MSG can invite a savory taste into your home. As a general guideline, about half a teaspoon of MSG per pound of meat or per four to six servings of vegetables should be sufficient.

Overall, MSG helps make good food taste even better.



  • Everything You Need To Know About Glutamate and Monosodium Glutamate: International Food and Information Council Foundation, January 1997.

  • Sensitive to MSG? American Dietetic Association






Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009




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